ROY — Population growth combined with inadequate housing stock can make for troublesome conditions, with sky-high home prices and some people shut out of the housing market.
Yet in Utah, such conditions are hardly a hypothetical. That’s how it is, and it’s got the state’s leading business association, the Salt Lake Chamber, traveling city to city along the Wasatch Front, warning that the upshot, if left unaddressed, could be inadequate housing for those who make a community tick.
As is, Utah is experiencing a housing shortage, 54,000 more households than living units, the chamber’s Brynn Mortensen told the Roy City Council on Tuesday. And if the trend of rising home prices, exacerbated by such an imbalance, continues, “we’re going to start pricing out those who we most need in our community,” she said, including teachers, police officers and others in the middle-income range.
Abby Osborne, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs and public policy, goes further, warning that if the situation isn’t rectified, with change allowing for a broader portfolio of housing, the impact could hit close to home for some. She singled out the clamoring against new housing subdivisions that has become common in Weber County and across Utah, saying such sentiment could impact this generation’s children and grandchildren, reducing their housing options.
“What they’re saying no to is the kids, the grandkids. Where are those people going to live?” Osborne said by phone. The offspring of those now living in Utah, she noted, are expected to account for the bulk of anticipated population growth in the state.
Mortensen, who’s visited 40-plus cities as part of the chamber effort, is asking the municipal leaders she’s met to adopt a “vanilla resolution” sounding support for moves meant to assure that housing is available at varied price levels. She’s also visited Ogden, North Ogden and South Ogden, and part of her message focuses on the geographic limitations along the Wasatch Front, where the state’s population is focused and where demographers expect the sharpest growth in decades to come.
“We can only grow so much,” Mortensen, public policy and special projects coordinator for the chamber, told the Roy officials. “We have the lake, the mountains.”
The chamber initiative, spearheaded by a group called the Housing Gap Coalition, made up of business leaders from an array of sectors, stemmed from chamber members’ complaints that some of their employees were having a hard time finding housing. The shortage isn’t strictly an issue for those at the lower end of the income spectrum, chamber officials say. High prices impact those at middle-income levels as well, and if no action is taken “average Utahns will be priced out of our housing market in 26 years,” reads the coalition website.
Osborne alluded to the dizzying rise in home prices along the West Coast, in California, Oregon and Washington. That trend, she warns, is “moving inland.”
WHERE WILL THEY GO?
Varied factors figure in the dearth of housing, but part of the message to municipal leaders who Mortensen has visited centers on the need for focused planning and zoning initiatives, which can be controversial.
Housing projects in western Weber County and West Haven, for instance, have sparked ire among some neighbors when developers have sought change allowing for denser housing construction than zoning regulations would otherwise allow. Such concerns about overcrowding, or at least the perception of overcrowding, have been common across Utah, Osborne said.
However, she said planners have numerous options in allowing housing growth and development, without resorting to the extreme of high-rise apartments. Growth is coming, she added, and some sort of compromise will have to be reached in light of expected population increases.
“Where are these people going to go?” she said.
The Ogden City Council last October passed a version of the resolution the chamber is asking locales to consider.
North Ogden leaders, didn’t, however, according to Jon Call, the city attorney. He cited the “somewhat ambiguous” language of the chamber resolution, while noting that city council members, nevertheless, agree with the chamber’s mission of augmenting housing availability.
The massive Village at Prominence Point development proposal in southern North Ogden aims to create a mix of housing — single-family units, town homes and apartments — potentially broadening the range of housing stock in the city. Indeed, leaders hope the project off the 1700 and 1800 blocks of Washington Boulevard provides an outlet for more moderately priced housing, Call said.
But he added: “Who knows for sure if that’s going to happen.” Market forces that government officials don’t control, he noted, can push home prices upward, making it difficult for some would-be homebuyers.
Another facet of the chamber initiative calls for encouraging careers in construction to counter a shortage of workers in the sector, which has also factored in limited housing stock, according to the organization.